Thursday, 13 September 2018

Tara Lynn Masih - Guest Post - My Real Name is Hanna

I am honoured to be hosting Tara Lynn Masih on the blog today. Tara is the author of the fantastic novel My Real Name is Hanna and I can honestly say that it has been one of my favourite reads this year. My review of the book can be found here. Without further ado, over to you Tara.

"When I began writing My Real Name Is Hanna five years ago, I had no idea where my plot was going. I had just seen the powerful documentary No Place on Earth about the Stermer family, who hid in Ukrainian underground caves to avoid being found by Nazis during the Holocaust. Within twenty-four hours of viewing the film, I started writing what would become my first completed novel. At the beginning of the process, all I knew was that some version of their story had to be told in fiction, and I felt driven to be the one to do it. Toni Morrison once wisely said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

I very much wanted to read this book, and I very much wanted to have young readers be inspired by the story as well.

I was lucky to awaken the morning after I saw the film with the voice of Hanna in my head, her name, and the first few lines. From there, a very rough outline grew. Within thirty days, I had scaffolding, but little else. There was no good foundation to make the book sturdy and liveable. And I needed to find a way to reveal the horror that was the Holocaust as clearly and as accurately as it needed to be revealed, without using the pain of others to advance a story.

Until I came to realize that this book would not be about the Holocaust as much as it would be about the Holocaust’s devastating effect on community and family and tradition and culture. And that it would be about how one family managed to find a way to survive not just physically, but emotionally. We tend to concentrate more on physical survival during traumatic events, but emotional survival is more complex and, I think, even more important.

Besides the obvious strong family bonds and deep faith the Stermer family had, they had stories. What else can you take with you into the dark? For centuries humankind has been staving off the darkness with myths, fairy-tales, and folklore, both fantastical and ordinary. I love what writing coach Lisa Cron says about storytelling: “Before there were books, we read each other.” Around campfires and kitchen stoves, beside beds and on pulpits.

So my novel became one overarching story of one woman reading herself. Then as I continued to do research and fill in the flooring and hang the support beams, I heard other voices, other stories. “Story” in My Real Name Is Hanna becomes a replacement for community, even for food during times of starvation. It bonds the hideaways in shared history and educates them about their past. They “read” each other to survive, just as Hanna reads her treasured Joan of Arc story, as told by Mark Twain. Hanna clings to Twain’s iconic crusader story through the voice of Joan, as a way to hold on to her own self.

My hope is that this novel will be the kind of book that will allow you to better read yourself and your neighbours, and that what you find during your “reading” will help you build up your community, not tear it down and divide it once again.

A portion of the author’s royalties will be donated to the Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum in memory of Esther Stermer."

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Guest Post Tomorrow - Tara Lynn Masih

I am very excited to let you all know that the lovely, Tara Lynn Masih, will be a guest on my blog tomorrow. Tara is the author of the amazing novel My Name is Hannah, which is published in the UK this week.

I adored this book when I read it and reviewed it here on the blog. Just click on the book title below to read my review.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

A Gathering of Ghosts by Karen Maitland #Tuesday Teaser

From the Blurb

1316. On the wilds of Dartmoor stands the isolated Priory of St Mary, home to the Sisters of the Knights of St John. People journey from afar in search of healing at the holy well that lies beneath its chapel.

But the locals believe Dartmoor was theirs long before Christianity came to the land. And not all who visit seek miracles. When three strangers reach the moor, fear begins to stir as the well's waters run with blood.

What witchcraft have the young woman, the Knight of St John and the blind child brought with them?

The Sisters will need to fight for everything they hold dear as the ghosts of the Old World gather in their midst.

First Page

Chapter 1

Hospitallers' Priory of St Mary, Dartmoor
Eve of May Day and Feast of Beltane, 1316

That night, of all nights, Sister Fina was late. If she had arrived on time to close the holy well beneath the chapel, perhaps she might have averted all that came after, but she hadn't. And it was Sister Clarice who was to blame. Never let that woman start talking if you're in a hurry.

"Could I beg a moment of your time, Sister Fina?" she'd say.

But it never was just a moment.

Sister Basilia, who wouldn't hear a bad word said about any soul, not even if they'd murdered every child in Widecombe, once told her fellow Hospitallers they should be thankful for Clarice's gift of words, as it pleased her to call it, for she said the pedlars and merchants were so battered down by them they gave her what she wanted at half the price just to get away. The other sisters had rolled their eyes, for Basilia was cheerfully determined to see God's blessing in everything, even a burned bun, which vexed them even more than Clarice's nagging.

ISBN: 978 1472235886

Publisher: Headline Review

Friday, 7 September 2018

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell - Book Review

"Those months, the months before she disappeared, were the best months. Really. Just the best. Every moment presented itself to her like a gift and said, "Here I am, another perfect moment, just look at me, can you believe how lovely I am?"

She was fifteen, her mother's golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blinnk of an eye, Ellie was gone.

Ten years on, Laurel has never given up hope of finding Ellie. And then she meets a charming and charismatic stranger who sweeps her off her feet.

But what really takes her breath away is when she meets his nine-year-old daughter. Because his daughter is the image of Ellie.

Now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back. What really happened to Ellie? And who still has secrets to hide?

It is every parent's worst nightmare that their child might go missing. From newborn to adult the pain must be intolerable and the sense of despair overwhelming. Lisa Jewell has created this scenario around her main character, Laurel, and she has executed this brilliantly.

This is an author that people have been recommending to me for ages and I have only just gotten around to reading one of her books. I enjoyed it enormously for the tension and psychological suspense that she creates.

The bulk of the novel is set a decade after Ellie's disappearance and I am not giving anything away by saying that we do find out what happens to Ellie part way through the narrative. The novel moves seamlessly back and forth in time and the change in voice is easy to follow.

Ms. Jewell is an excellent storyteller and she kept up the pace and suspense through the whole novel. There was an eeriness throughout which kept me turning those pages as I was completely gripped by the story. I read this in two sittings and I rarely do that with a book.

There is a great sense of characterisation in this novel and even the minor characters made a significant impact on the plot. They were all totally believable and easy to comprehend.

Novels about children going missing are never wholly comfortable to read. I think that, at the back of every readers mind, whether you are a parent or not, dwells the question, how would I ever react if I were in that situation? It allows us to probe our own psyche in a safe and controlled manner whilst we hope and pray that we will never have to experience anything so horrifying.

This may have been my first novel by this author but it most definitely will not be my last. From what others have told me the quality of this novel can be expected in her other works. Based on this book Ms. Jewell has the potential to become one of my favourite authors.

ISBN: 978 1784756253

Publisher: Arrow Books

About the Author:

Lisa was born in London in 1968. Her mother was a secretary and her father was a textile agent and she was brought up in the northernmost reaches of London with her two younger sisters. She was educated at a Catholic Girls’ Grammar school in Finchley. After leaving school at sixteen she spent two years at Barnet College doing an arts foundation course and then two years at Epsom School of Art & Design studying Fashion Illustration and Communication.

She worked for the fashion chain, Warehouse, for three years as a PR Assistant and then for Thomas Pink, the Jermyn Street shirt company, for four years as a receptionist and PA. She started her first novel, Ralph’s Party, for a bet in 1996. She finished it in 1997 and it was published by Penguin books in May 1998. It went on to become the best-selling debut novel of that year.

She has since written a further nine novels, and is currently at work on her eleventh.

She now lives in an innermost part of north London with her husband Jascha, an IT consultant, her daughters, Amelie and Evie and her silver tabbies, Jack and Milly.

(biographical information courtesy of Goodreads)

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath - Book Review and Blog Tour

Branches of rosemary slid from Tom Williams' funeral bier, scattering around the mourners feet to be trampled into the tiles of the church nave, releasing the scent of remembrance.

Next time if there is a marriage, it will be one of my own choosing.

When beautiful cloth merchant's daughter, Elizabeth Williams, is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies - who know the truth about her late husband.

Security - and happiness - comes when Elizabeth is introduced to the kind and ambitious merchant, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect, but it isn't always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII's London.

The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights - and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen, or risk losing everything.

If there is one type of book that I really enjoy reading, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, it is those that are about the women who were behind powerful men. This is one such book and had everything I need in a historical novel.

The period detail is precise and clearly well researched, as evidenced in the bibliography in the back of the book. I felt thoroughly immersed in Tudor England with all the details of attitudes to daily life. Our views of birth, marriage and death and the ritual around those events in particular, have come a long way since the sixteenth century when the book is set.

Written in the first person narrative we get to know Elizabeth's character very well. She takes us through the past and present of her life in a non-chronological order. However, each section is dated and there is no confusion as we hop back and forth through this narrative.

Even though I knew a reasonable amount about Thomas Cromwell (and in case you are wondering, this book is nothing like Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall) this was a really interesting take on the people that surrounded him. Mostly, they are based on actual people but the author does not try to pretend that the stories that she has written about them are anything but fictional. However, she makes great usage of the facts that are available to weave them into believable and engaging characters.

Although set in the past the book still feels very current. The issues that Elizabeth confronts in her daily life still have some resonance to the modern reader.

Anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially the Tudor period will enjoy reading this book. I highly recommend it.

ISBN: 978 1786152299

Publisher: Accent Press

About the Author:

Carol McGrath taught History and English for many years. When left teaching to work on an MA in Creative Writing from Queens University, Belfast, then an MPhil in English at Royal Holloway, London, where she developed her exprtise on the Middle Ages.

Her debut novel, The Handfasted Wife was published by Accent Press in May 2013. The Swan Daughter and The Betrothed Sister followed in 2014 and 2015.